The internet has revolutionized the way we live and the way we do business.
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With a Wi-Fi enabled laptop, you can manage your business from almost anywhere. Anywhere except the one place you want internet access the most – in flight.
Passengers overwhelmingly agree that in-flight internet access tops the list of amenities they would like to see offered by their airlines. At the same time, in-flight internet seems to be one of the few things airlines have been hesitant to provide. The reason for the airlines' hesitation is complicated, but it boils down to a combination of cost and safety. Obviously the airline wants to make sure their wireless configuration doesn't interfere with the airplane's communication and navigational systems. The downside is that it costs a ton of money to install a system that won't send the plane crashing to the ground.
Although internet access on domestic airlines has so far been nonexistent, international airlines have experimented with it as recently as a few years ago. In 2004, Boeing installed their internet access service named Connexion on international carriers inlcuding Lufthansa, El Al, and others. The service was discontinued in 2006 due to a lack of customer demand.
Wait a minute . . . If passengers overwhelmingly favor in-flight internet access, why did Connexion fail to attract enough users to make it a viable option? Well, here's where it gets tricky: Passengers want internet access for the laptops and PDAs, but they don't want it badly enough to pay top dollar for it. The airlines, on the other hand, are more than happy to provide in-flight internet as long as they have a reasonable assurance it will benefit their bottom line.
Despite the standoff between passengers and airlines over cost, there are currently several domestic and international airlines actively pursuing the possibility of in-flight internet service in the not too distant future.
Here are some of the things you can expect to see over the next several years:
Pay for Service. As the airlines' race to make themselves more attractive to travelers, in-flight internet availability will likely become standard across the industry. But don't expect it to be free. Airlines will probably charge an access fee for each leg of your flight. However, having learned their lesson from the Connexion fiasco, the airlines will index their fee to compete with the rates of other non-flight access venues rather than to the actual cost of the service. Essentially, the total cost of the service will be shared by both the users and the airlines themselves.
Limited Free Access. Whenever possible, the airlines will offer free internet access on someone else's buck. Some of the airlines that are currently making plans to offer Wi-Fi service are also planning to offer free access to limited, sponsored, travel-based websites related to hotels, restaurants, ground transportation, etc. It's not ideal, but a lot of travelers will benefit from the possibility of making additional travel plans during their flight.
Connection Quality. Even though the actual speed of in-flight internet service remains to be seen, the airlines indicate that it will be expected to run on DSL speeds – more than enough to meet the needs of most in-flight users.